ASU Basketball: Sun Devil guards sacrificing for each other

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 10: Remy Martin /

The quartet has put ASU basketball on their back accounting for 70 percent of the Devils’ total points while sacrificing for each other.

Head coach Bobby Hurley chuckled for a second.

Trying to answer a question relating to what his guards, namely seniors Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II, have sacrificed for freshman Remy Martin — laying out the movement and flexibility they’ve shown, Hurley seemingly had a small epiphany.

“Tra’s a true point guard – so is Shannon.”

Insert chuckle.

Maybe it was ASU’s third-year head coach realizing what he had done. Just a year after riding a small-ball lineup to the tune of 15-18 record, he kept the same game plan, implemented with a few different pieces, and voilà, the Devils were No. 5 in the latest AP poll.

That is Arizona State’s improvement in far too simple of terms, but the one overarching theme of its season is the guard play by Holder, Evans, Martin and senior Kodi Justice.

The quartet has put ASU’s nine wins on its back, accounting for 70 percent of the Devils’ total points while, despite the crowded backcourt, sacrificing for each other.

“Last year, we were worried about like where can we get ours from, where can we score from,” Evans said. “But, now I feel like it’s more so, ‘how can I help Tra get better?’ ‘How can I get Kodi involved?’ ‘How can I get Melo (redshirt freshman forward Romello White) the ball?’

“And when I’m trying to do that, they’re also doing the same for me as well, so my game has opened up as well. If everybody thinks about each other, it helps everyone.”

A year ago, ASU’s offense consisted of now-graduated guard Torian Graham taking over 14 shots a game while Justice was frequently going up against forwards. It didn’t have the size or depth to execute Hurley’s plan.

“They had so many responsibilities [last season]. Kodi trying to guard the guys he was trying to guard and asking Shannon and Tra to block out 7-footers every time down, it’s not easy,” Hurley said. “Now, with the inside game and presence of Romello White and De’Quon Lake and Vitaliy’s [Shibel] coming on.

“They’re now freed up to be who they are more – I think they would’ve shown that on a more regular basis last year if I had done my job a little better and sooner and gotten them some help.”

With defenses forced to respect the Sun Devil big men, the guards are able to operate an offense with more space than ever seen in Hurley’s previous two seasons in Tempe, and instead of forcing deep shots, they’re able to move the ball much more effectively.

Their newfound sacrifices on the court haven’t led to a dip in the stat sheet, however. In fact, the three returners have seen their point totals all increase this season.

Justice has scored an average of five points more a game up to 14.1 points per game, Evans has spiked four points to 19.0 PPG and Holder has increased his total 5.4 points to 21.6 PPG.

The “Guard U” moniker that has engulfed the program seems more than just – especially when the backcourt adds another weapon for over 25 minutes a game in Martin.

The speedy freshman point guard adds almost 10 points and two steals a game, but possibly his biggest contribution comes on the other end of the floor. His tenacious defense has shined thus far, making him a menace to opposing guards.

Those contributions by Martin have no doubt been key to the success of the Sun Devils so far, but one other seemingly routine act has created a new offensive dynamic and put his teammates in different places to succeed.

Brining the ball up the court.

A simple act? Sure. But, when Martin enters the game he automatically shifts to point guard, the ball handler – giving the previous ball handler, Holder, a new approach.

“He does a great job of changing the pace of the game,” Holder said. “And it gives me a chance to take a breather and find other ways to score or get my teammates involved.”

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It’s all in the art of the Devils’ guards sacrificing. Holder moves over when Martin gets on the court, foregoing his responsibility of bringing the ball up the court to exhibit Martin’s strengths.

“Those guys have allowed Remy to find his niche within the offense,” Hurley said. “They’re all sharing the ball very well and sacrificing.”

ASU’s lineup, at times, consists of four guards playing at the same time. With most teams, that wouldn’t work. But, Arizona State’s guards are flexible, able to excel while playing the one, two, three and occasionally the four position.

As Hurley mentioned, and laughed about, Holder and Evans are true point guards, but more often than not, Martin is at the helm of that position.

He gets the responsibility to start-up the offense, to guard the opposing point guard and to, most importantly, get his teammates involved.

In Holders case, relinquishing those duties to Martin opens him up for more scoring opportunities.

“[Martin bringing the ball up] frees Tra up to find opportunities off the ball, to play off penetration,” Hurley said. “Maybe get behind the three-point arc and hit his three or drive a close-out.”

Whatever the difference in shots are for Holder while he’s not playing the point, he needs to keep trying to get those looks.

Holder currently has a legit shot at becoming an All-American — to go along with his 21.3 points per game, the senior from Los Angeles, Calif. is averaging 5.2 assists and 5.6 rebounds while shooting as well from behind the arc (46.3 percent) as he is from the field (46.4 percent).

His ascendance may be due to the emergence of Martin, but Holder continued to credit the communication that all of the guards play with.

“We do a good job of communicating during the game so we know where each other is at,” Holder said.

And maybe that’s the beauty of the position. Point guards distribute the ball after all – their position requires sacrificing shots in order to set up teammates.

Next: ASU Basketball: Sun Devils storm back to stun No. 2 Kansas

So, regardless if Holder or Martin is bringing up the ball, or if Evans or Justice is at the three, they’re all going to look for the open man, sacrificing in the short turn, but ready to be rewarded in the long run from their teammates.

All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.